Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dicing Dennett

For a couple years now I've been subscribing to First Things, a highly intellectual conservative Catholic publication. I think it was the very first time I responded immediately to a direct-mail campaign. I had never heard of it before, but I liked their pitch and signed on. Sometimes my eyes glaze over from subtle analyses of authors I've never heard of about authors I've never heard of . . . but other times I get the most hilarious, cutting, clever critiques I've ever read. Think Slate for people who know the meaning of "apophatic."

The most recent issue had a critique of Daniel Dennett's latest pro-atheist, anti-religion tract, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena. David B. Hart compared the book, quite effectively, with Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark. Dennett tries to build a case that religion evolved originally as a meme with survival value for the human species, but that eventually became a parasite that forwards its own survival to the detriment of its host. Hart's most telling criticism was that these two theses -- that religion had survival value, but now it doesn't -- are essentially contradictory and render his hypothesis unfalsifiable. Dennett does not for a moment want to suggest that religion might actually be a force for good -- that would undermine his whole agenda. But he can't propose a sociobiological origin of religion without acknowledging that at some point it had some survival value. So he splits the difference, trying to have his evolutionary cake and eat it, too.

Hart also calls out Dennett's totalitarian social agenda -- to essentially outlaw religious instruction. Evidently he, along with Richard Dawkins, believe they would be doing the world a great service by trying to "protect" children from the superstitions of their parents. While Hart didn't say it, I crying out from the peanut gallery: "Oh, of course, because we all know what a shining example of moral decency came out of the last attempt of a state to institutionalize atheism." Do I come across too red-blooded, to yell "communist!" in a crowded theater?

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